With the increasing popularity of bandwidth-intensive activities like online gaming and HD video streaming, it’s important to have hardware that can handle such demands. The best wireless routers are designed to offer the fastest possible throughput for home wireless networks. All current routers can connect you to the internet, but premium routers allow fast enough internet speeds to stream bandwidth-intensive content without incessant buffering.
In homes with large numbers of Wi-Fi enabled devices, your wireless signals can become congested and sluggish. To combat this, the latest wireless routers are typically dual-band devices. This means that rather than sharing one wireless band across all of your devices, you now have two, to better balance the load on your wireless network.
The Linksys WRT1900AC is the long-awaited successor to the original and widely popular Linksys WRT54GL. This original model gained widespread success for a number of reasons: it was fast, easy to use and could be flashed for use with custom firmware. Its versatility made it a popular choice among open-source programmers and enthusiasts seeking more control over the way their wireless routers operate.
The Netgear Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router is a unique router that provides the speed, security and features you should expect from a premium wireless router, and adds a little extra. The main difference between the Nighthawk X6 and other routers is that it is a Tri-band device. Plus, it comes at a higher price point than most wireless routers.
The Trendnet TEW-812DRU is an 802.11ac router that combines performance and affordability in a way that makes it a solid option for most consumers. Although it’s a little slower on the 2.4GHz n-band at 450 Mbps, its performance on the 5GHz ac-band, at 1300 Mbps, solidifies it as the one of the best wireless routers available.
The Buffalo AirStation HighPower N300 is a wireless router that’s budget-friendly and supportive of telecommuters. It has five fast Ethernet ports: one for the internet connection and four for attaching local area network devices. Support for the IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi standard allows devices that conform to previous Wi-Fi standards – 802.11g and 802.1b – to connect to and use the wireless router. The 802.11n technology supports a theoretical speed of 300 Mbps.
Best Budget Router
Best Parental Settings
The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 has a unique yet somewhat subtle design that allows it to stand out from other wireless routers on the market. As a part of its design, it features three external antennas that allow you some control over the direction of the wireless signal.
Most Configuration Options
The Asus RT-AC66U is a sleekly designed wireless router that provides incredible wireless speeds and an unparalleled depth of control. It delivers its high speeds by making use of the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard that allows for speeds of up to 1300 Mbps. Its outstanding level of control comes from a browser-like interface with a large selection of advanced settings.
Best for Mac Products
Apple products are known for their ease of use and clean, simple designs. The Apple AirPort Extreme is no different. Its appearance is beautiful and unique. The wireless router stands tall, with a small footprint and has no legs, antennas or anything else protruding from its glossy white chassis. All of its ports are hidden away in the rear of the device and it has only one small indicator light on the front.
What Else to Consider
Wireless AC vs Wireless N
We’ve compared wireless-ac and wireless-n routers and offer detailed reviews based on useful evaluation criteria to narrow choices in support of purchasing decisions. Wireless-n routers are still the way to go if you are on a budget. If money is no problem, then consider the wireless-ac routers, but realize that you won't achieve the promise of 802.11ac speeds unless you upgrade your laptop, tablet and smartphone.
Wireless-n routers can support up to four Ethernet lines and numerous wireless connections for a variety of devices. They deliver wireless speeds nearly comparable to a direct line and can work with devices such as mobile phones, wireless TVs, game consoles and other Wi-Fi enabled devices. If you live in an apartment or standard-size home with only a handful of devices to support, this type of router will suit your needs perfectly.
Wireless-n routers are backward compatible so they still support the previous IEEE 802.11a/b/g standards. Many include two internal antennas for increased reliability. Most wireless routers in this range can support up to four Ethernet lines and several wireless devices easily. The routers come with the ability to lock down access to secure your devices and bandwidth. The best n routers also come with parental controls and powerful encryption methods.
Wi-Fi has undergone several evolutions since its introduction. These evolutions are often marked by the introduction of a new Wi-Fi standard. Whether your Wi-Fi is 802.11b, g or n, each successive advancement has brought new features and faster speeds to consumers. The latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, offers a series of important features including increased speed and stronger connections.
The 802.11ac standard is only usable on 5GHz networks. Premium wireless routers built around this standard, however, are often dual band, meaning they simultaneously broadcast both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. This is important because many older devices aren't compatible with 5GHz and would therefore be unusable on an 802.11ac network.
Speed is a primary concern when it comes to internet access, and the new 802.11ac standard delivers a significant increase. While previous incarnations of the Wi-Fi standard boasted theoretical speeds of up to 450 Mbps, 802.11ac now allows for speeds of up to 1,300 Mbps. While it's unlikely that you'll reach these speeds in the real world due to interference and other factors, these theoretical speeds are a good indicator of the kind of improvement you should expect from a new 802.11ac router.
Signal strength is another important benefit of purchasing an 802.11ac router. Older routers broadcast Wi-Fi signals somewhat haphazardly in the general area of the router, while 802.11ac routers use a technology known as beamforming to focus the signal in the direction of a connected device. With this technology, connections will not only be faster, but more stable and reliable.
Over the years, the numbers of devices that utilize the 2.4GHz band have multiplied, and getting a clear signal in densely populated areas can be difficult. The obvious solution to this problem is using a different frequency, namely 5GHz, and that's exactly what 802.11ac routers do. Because there's less interference, modern devices that are equipped for use on 5GHz networks will benefit from a cleaner signal while using an 802.11ac router.
Although they are more expensive than the typical 802.11n variety, 802.11ac routers offer a substantial improvement in speed and connection stability. New laptops, tablets and phones are now shipping with this technology, and while they are still compatible with older Wi-Fi standards, upgrading to an 802.11ac router is the best way to get the most out of your Wi-Fi enabled devices.
When looking at a premium wireless router it's also important to take note of the connection points that it offers. The best routers typically have four Gigabit LAN ports, a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port. The LAN ports give you wired access to the internet, while the USB ports let you connect network devices like printers or external hard drives for sharing.
To help protect you and your personal information, the best wireless routers protect your bandwidth by locking down outside access to your data by encrypting wireless data transfers. Wi-Fi routers include firewalls based on Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) or Network Address Translation (NAT) technology, or both. SPI detects traffic patterns that appear to be from hackers. NAT hides all of the devices on your wireless network behind a single IP address.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2) encrypts communication sessions. WPA and WPA2 are better than the previous method, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Most vendors continue to offer WEP in order to support previous-generation Wi-Fi clients that can’t use WPA or WPA2. Parental controls and guest access features are available on some, but not all, home routers. For telecommuters who use personal internet accounts from home to access a Virtual Private Network at work, there are home wireless products that support VPN pass-through.
For the sake of creating a relevant product comparison, we've looked at routers in this range that share similar attributes such as IEEE 802.11n Wi-Fi standards, 2.4 GHz band and dual antennas. If you are looking for a new router, don’t consider anything less than an ac router. If you have a wireless g router, it would be wise to upgrade to at least a wireless n router, if not an ac – the latest standard. The newest routers also increase speed with Wi-Fi Quality of Service software (QoS) standard, which makes efficient use of Ethernet connections by prioritizing multimedia traffic according to the application s sensitivity to delay. Wireless ac and n routers also employ multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) radio antennae to boost speeds.
Ease of Use
As a rule, most routers are easy to set up, though some are easier than others. Premium routers come with a preconfigured wireless network. This allows you to connect to the internet by simply plugging your router in and using the included network name and password to connect a computer to it. Using this method, there's no need for a wired connection or a setup disk.
Even less expensive or older-generation routers are decently easy to use, thanks to features such as UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) to facilitate the connection of multimedia players. Additionally, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is a single button that configures and secures client devices. Many of these routers also come with a CD or USB device that will provide you with systematic instructions on how to set up your router securely.
Once your router is set up, you have the option of configuring your network further. You can change the name of the network, the password, parental settings and more. If you're a power user, you'll want to make sure that the router you choose has adequate options for customizing your network and that the menus themselves are easy to navigate.
Help & Support
You should be able to set up your router easily on your own, but if you need help, it ought to be readily available. Consider your level of expertise as you decide whether you need phone and online chat or whether you could get by on email or user-forum access. Wireless routers typically include a one-year warranty, but some offer two-year warranties.
While you can certainly spend multiple hundreds of dollars getting the latest and greatest in router technology, you don’t have to. There are several options under $50, and even some around $25. The Linksys E1200 is just that. This wireless n router offers theoretical data rates of 300 Mbps and has four 10/100 Mbps Ethernet LAN ports. With simple setup and a variety of firewall and other security features, you can connect your favorite devices and keep to your budget.
Few households today can get by without a wireless router. Premium wireless routers use the latest Wi-Fi technologies to afford the fastest speeds, strongest connections and deepest configuration options available. Likewise, wireless n routers are affordable and provide fast, reliable internet for mobile phones, web-enabled TVs, game consoles, laptops and tablets. In purchasing a device that makes use of these technologies, you're not only improving your wireless speeds, but also preparing your home network for the future.